EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Project DNA: Pennsylvania


The pertinent portion of Pennsylvania's postconviction DNA testing statute, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 9543.1(c)(3)(i), states that a defendant seeking postconviction DNA testing must

(3) present a prima facie case demonstrating that the:

(i) identity of or the participation in the crime by the perpetrator was at issue in the proceedings that resulted in the applicant's conviction and sentencing

So, where does that leave pleading defendants? 

In Williams v. Erie County Dist. Attorney’s Office, Charles Stephon Williams pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a child and related crimes. Subsequently, Williams filed a petition to inspect and test evidence in the State’s possession. The trial court denied the petition, and the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed that holding on appeal. It cited to Pennsylvania’s postconviction DNA testing statute, which provides that a defendant seeking testing must present a prima facie case that the “identity of or participation in the crime by the perpetrator was at issue in the proceedings that resulted in the applicant’s conviction and sentencing.” The court interpreted this section to mean that defendants who plead guilty cannot seek DNA testing. Specifically, the court held that “[w]e fail to see how this mandatory element of an applicant’s prima facie case can be demonstrated where he pleaded guilty, thus nullifying any subsequent claim that the ‘identity of or the participation in the crime by the perpetrator was at issue.’”

Pennsylvania legislators, however, are currently considering a bill that would allow pleading defendants to seek postconviction DNA testing. See, e.g., Pa. Senate Passes Greenleaf Conviction Integrity Bills Extending Time Limit for Post-Conviction Relief and Expanding DNA Testing, Pennsylvania Innocence Project (Apr. 28, 1994), https://innocenceprojectpa.org/pa-senate-passes-greenleaf-conviction-integrity-bills-extending-time-limit-for-post-conviction-relief-and-expanding-dna-testing/.



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Thanks for this information, Colin. I'm a big fan of Undisclosed and your insight is invaluable! I've been waiting for this update on PA's post-conviction DNA testing--I'll be contacting my representatives soon. Thank you for all the work you do to help right the wrongs done by our justice system. We all appreciate you and the Undisclosed team!! - Edo

Posted by: Edo Forsythe | Sep 20, 2018 5:14:01 AM

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